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March 14, 2013

Tread Lightly & as little as Possible

Displaying a picture of a traction engine, Harper Adams University senior lecturer David White insisted that our ancestors knew something – ‘keep off the soil.’

“If a tillage operation isn’t going to be of benefit, don’t do it,” he urged those attending the recent Agrii-sponsored Soil and Water Management Centre soil recovery workshop.

Mr White highlighted the importance of ballasting tractors correctly to achieve the ‘sweet spot’ wheel slip figure of 8-15% to provide optimum traction with minimal soil damage.

All implements had critical working depths. “Never work deeper than you need to,” he stressed. “As a rule of thumb, if you double the depth you quadruple the force needed to pull it.”

For tined cultivators, he pointed out that the critical depth is typically six times the tine width.

Backward facing tines, surprisingly perhaps, needed more pulling than those inclined forward at the same depth. “So consider lifting them out if the going’s difficult – they just add to the draft need.”

“Worn tines, like worn blades on a forage harvester, are false economy,” he cautioned.  “Tyre pressures should be reduced to the lowest recommended by the manufacturer for a given load when field working. Compaction at depth was hard to undo, so growers should avoid creating it by keeping vehicles with high tyre pressures off their fields.”

Mr White offered the following key advice to help growers cope with this spring’s tricky conditions:

  • Make as few passes over the field as possible.
  • Work headlands last – or not at all.
  • Don’t rush – resist the temptation to fill the drill fully.
  • Don’t force seed into poor soil conditions – it might lead to a costly re-drill.
  • Allow green material to remain as long as possible. Consider killing it with glyphosate as late as possible.
  • Dig a hole with a spade to check cultivation work for smearing.
  • Direct drill or min till untouched stubbles.
  • Cultivate ploughed but unplanted land as little as possible – and where compacted below plough depth loosen if dry enough.
  • Min till then drill ploughed and cultivated land, doing as little as possible to get an appropriate tilth.
    • For really tricky conditions broadcast & harrow.
    • As a last resort leave fallow.

By kind permission of Farmers Weekly.